Reflections on Terrorism

Reflections on Terrorism

One Man’s View

By Eugen Schoenfeld

What occupies our attention is terrorism. We feel threatened by the events in Paris and in the United States.

Perhaps our heightened fear results not only from the events, but also from the television portrayal of the events. The viewing public is led to believe that terrorism is something new and is rooted in the aggressive nature of Islamic teaching. Both are not necessarily true.

Eugen Schoenfeld
Eugen Schoenfeld

Terrorism has existed in the past and will probably exist throughout the human future. Is it due to Islam’s teachings? I cannot deny that Islam is aggressive compared with Buddhism, but it is no more aggressive than Christianity was and perhaps still is.

Because Middle East terrorists use Islam to justify their acts, we blame terrorism mostly on the nature and teaching of that religion, forgetting that Christians used their religion to justify their terrorism in the past.

I do not justify terror in any form. The terror that I experienced in the Holocaust was enough for me. I oppose any form of human insanity, especially killing in the name of G-d. I do wish to live in a sane world just as much as did Micah and Isaiah, and just like them I would like to live in a world without fear.

To achieve such a state, if we ever could, we need to understand the reasons why people are willing to act insanely. Our sages in Pirkei Avot tell us that to make any judgment of people’s action, we must first stand in their place. In short, we must seek to understand the reason for terrorism so that we may alter the conditions that bring it on.

Let me propose that if we wish to understand the reasons for present-day terrorism, we must begin by looking at it from the terrorist point of view. We must see terrorism from their point of view.

What we call terrorism they call wars of liberation. This was true when the founders of these United States began their war of liberation, which the British considered an act of rebellion and terrorism.

Relativism also holds true when we wish to differentiate between who is a hero and who is a traitor. One side’s heroes are considered by the other side as traitors. Hero and traitor depend on who won the war.

I am fairly sure that all those thousands of soldiers who were declared by Germany as heroes and were decorated with various crosses and medals hid their decorations after the war somewhere deep under their shirts in their chifforobes. The more a German soldier was decorated by his state, the more likely it was that he would be considered a villain by the victors.

The same holds true about terrorists. While we in the Western world see them as villains and criminals, their own people see them as heroes who will be rewarded not only in this life, if they survive, but also in the next life with the pleasures of 72 virgins.

Wars have always been a tragic event for people. War forces us to kill, and we are taught to accept the probability of being killed. The moral issue of killing is, however, not clear to me.

In the past morals related to war were somewhat clearer. These morals were based on differentiating combatants from noncombatants. This differentiation made killing the enemy legal and perhaps even morally justified, but only when the action was directed at combatants. Combatants wore uniforms; noncombatants were civilians who, theoretically, were safe from war action.

This is precisely the issue of the Amalekites’ behavior in the Torah. The Torah considers them evil because they violate the rules of warfare.

Shortly after the Israelites depart Egypt, the Amalekites attack them from the rear, killing the old, the infirmed, the women and the children — namely, the defenseless noncombatants who should not be engaged in battle. Because they violate the rules of war, the Torah declares them evil and proposes that G-d will punish them and that their memory will be erased from history.

But World War II changed things. Many former Russian and French soldiers discarded their uniforms after the fall of their country but remained combatants with the blessing of their countrymen. Hence, a pseudo-military organization arose to fight an invading army with whatever means possible.

These were the members of the Resistance in France and the Partisans in the Russian forests. The Germans called them terrorists. Still, the members of these pseudo-armies observed the rule of attacking only the enemy — that is, the German army — without forays into Germany to terrorize the population. That was left to the military.

To understand the motivation of pseudo-armies such as Islamic State and al-Qaida, I wish to relate my own indoctrination into what some called a terrorist organization.

In my early teens I was imbued with a perspective that could have influenced me to become, in today’s view, a terrorist. In 1939 at the age of 14, I joined the Betar movement, a revisionist Zionist movement founded on the ideologies espoused by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

I and my friends became Anglophobes, and we expressed our hostility toward the British by singing a Hebrew song titled “Ali-Baba” with great gusto. The lyrics of “Ali-Baba” had the following verse: “The English police — may its name be erased forever, and we will dance the Ali-Baba when we shall murder them.”

What brought on this urge to fight, perhaps as terrorists, against Britain?

With this song I expressed my anger against Britain, which at that time ruled Palestine. I and many young Zionists believed and hoped that England, a modern and supposedly moral country, would open the gates to our homeland.

Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, in a letter sent to Lord Rothschild in 1917 declared that the British government looked favorably on the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. But Britain reneged on its promise, and in 1939, a scant six months after Kristallnacht, the British government issued the MacDonald White Paper, which rejected the Balfour promise and under Chamberlain’s administration reduced Jewish immigration to Palestine to a trickle.

In 1939 Germany’s Judenrein policy was in effect. My reaction to this British anti-Semitic declaration was anger. The tragedies that we Jews experienced in the last two millennia were to be experienced again.

As I see it, Islamic terrorism is influenced by historical Christian hostilities against Muslims and by rising forms of colonialism.

No doubt, as I stated earlier, Islam is an aggressive religion. It seeks a power position in the world. It challenged Christianity’s attempt to become the universal (i.e., Catholic) religion. The Theodosian Code (380 C.E.) declared that Christianity was the only legitimate belief and that other beliefs were advocated by foolish and ignominious madmen and heretics who not only would be chastised by G-d, but also should be punished by the church authorities according to the will of heaven.

This was also true in Islam. Based on the Quran, Muslims declared that Islam alone carried G-d’s new message to the world from the Prophet Muhammad and that those who refused to accept this view not only would be punished by G-d, but also should be punished by Islamic states because such punishment was justified by Allah.

What about attacking innocent civilians? Is this not terrorism?

Let us not forget that since World War II we have erased this distinction. Have we not killed civilians in our carpet bombing and in the firebombing of Dresden? Isn’t our present policy to treat all the people with whom we are at war as combatants? Don’t we have a new phrase by which we seek to justify civilian casualties as “collateral damage” — an unfortunate aspect of modern warfare?

It is time that we get uninvolved from inter-Islamic problems as though they were still our colonies. We must free Islam and let Muslim society mature, evolve, change and follow its own bent. Most important, we must cease being a nation of missionaries preaching anyone and everyone our political beliefs.

No longer do we need to practice or support colonialism in whatever form. Instead of going to war, let us be content to secure the land in which we live. We must cease seeking domination of others and instead be content with spending our energies for the improvement of our own country.

Most important, we must cease to offer human sacrifices to a new Molech, a new god of war, and to its followers who feel that all problems can be solved by war. Let us stop believing that the only solution to problems with other nations is war. It is a fallacy to believe that problems are solved with the stick and that bigger problems are solved with bigger sticks.

Our fallen soldiers fought heroically, but they unfortunately were the burned sacrifice offered by the worshippers of the new Molech. They are the victims of unnecessary wars and of power-greedy politicians.

We must break the cycle of aggression. Remember the teaching of Hillel, who cautioned us when he saw a skull floating on the water. He said: Because you drowned others, others have drowned you, and those who have drowned you shall themselves be drowned.

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